Staying Aligned with Our Values

As I write, I’ve just returned from the Friends General Conference Gathering in Amherst, Massachusetts, where, among other things, I attended a weeklong workshop on the subject of "Your Money and Your Values." Having reached the empty nest, but still paying for my offspring’s college educations, it seemed a good time to re-examine my personal and our family financial goals, as my husband and I look forward to the years when the costs of rearing a family will be behind us. I found the workshop, led by Penny Yunuba and Carolyn Hilles, to be excellent, with many useful avenues to re-evaluate our current practices. My experience at the Gathering resonates well with Chel Avery’s "Favorite Writings on Simplicity" (p. 11) in this issue. We Quakers, she writes, "live in a world filled with demands, pressures, temptations, and distractions that serve as constant impediments to our efforts to order our outward lives in a way that nourishes and witnesses to the inward lives we strive for." She goes on to share four Quaker and three secular readings that have helped her in her efforts to keep her life centered and congruent with the Testimony of Simplicity.

Minding our testimonies, particularly in facing the complexity of the right use of power, has never felt more urgent than at present. In "Police Power for Peace" (p. 6), William Hanson explores the appropriate use of limited force in an international context as a means of preventing the escalating violence that leads to war. Recognizing that many Friends are ambivalent about the need for the use of force by local police, he points out that we rely on that function for daily protection—and that "we need a clear direction favoring world police and a world judicial system as an alternative to the fumbling horror of perpetual war." He goes on to suggest that Friends become advocates and leaders in developing the minimum-force policing and world law that the global community will need to reach the point of abolishing war.

One could not find a better model of the quiet but firm commitment needed to effect long-lasting social change such as this than in the example of Mary Stone McDowell, featured in "Gentle Persuader and Loyal Friend" (p. 16) by Mary Lee Morrison. Mary Stone McDowell was a teacher in the public schools in New York City prior to World War I. In 1918, she was suspended from her position for five years for her refusal to teach a course in citizenship, which she deemed was "a euphemism for support of the war." After five difficult years, and a legal case that ultimately "represented the first test of pacifism and academic freedom moving through a state court system in the United States," she was reinstated as a teacher in the New York City public schools in 1923. The president of the School Board admitted that her case had occurred at "the height of war hysteria." Her firm commitment to her pacifist values and long involvement with peace activities throughout her life, until her death in 1955, displayed the courage and dedication needed to change hearts and minds.

During these slower days of summer, I hope that Friends will find much here to contemplate in thinking about how to keep one’s life congruent with one’s values.